What is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?
Public Law 105-17, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (IDEA), is the federal special education law. IDEA was signed into law in June 1997, with final federal regulations published in March 1999. This law replaces all earlier versions of Public Law 94-142, the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975.
IDEA guarantees to each child with a disability and in need of special education services, the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) appropriate. IDEA includes four main parts:
- Part A - General provisions, including definitions of disabilities
- Part B - Assistance to states for the education of all handicapped children, including all of the provisions related to identifying children with disabilities and providing them with a free appropriate education
- Part C - Infants and toddlers with disabilities
- Part D - National assistance to improve the education of children with disabilities
What are the six main principles of IDEA?
The following six main principles of IDEA embody the underlying spirit and intent of IDEA and provide the framework around which special education services are designed and provided to students with disabilities:
- Free Appropriate Public Education — IDEA guarantees that each child with a disability, eligible for special education, will be entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
Free requires that the education of each child with a disability must be provided at public expense and at no cost to the child’s parents. The only exception is that incidental fees normally charged to non-disabled students or their parents as part of the regular education program may also be charged to students with disabilities and their parents.
Appropriate means that each child with a disability is entitled to an education that is “appropriate” for his or her needs. “Appropriate education” is determined on an individual basis and may not be the same for each child with a disability.
Public refers to the public school system. Children with disabilities, regardless of the nature or severity of their disabilities, have the same right to attend the public schools as their non-disabled peers. The public school system must educate students with disabilities, respond to their individual needs, and help them plan for their future.
Education - IDEA is an education act that guarantees that eligible children with disabilities will receive a public education that includes special education and related services as directed by the child's Individualized Education Program (IEP), based on the child's individual needs.
- Appropriate Evaluation — IDEA requires that each child suspected of having a disability receive an appropriate evaluation:
- In all areas of suspected disability.
- By a team of evaluators knowledgeable and trained in the use of the tests and other evaluation materials they use.
- Employing a variety of sound evaluation materials and procedures selected and administered so as not to be racially or culturally discriminatory.
- Without subjecting a child to unnecessary tests and assessments.
- Including the gathering of relevant information from a variety of sources.
- Based on information that is useful instructionally in planning for the child’s education.
- An appropriate evaluation provides information to be used to determine the child’s eligibility for special education and related services and the educational needs of the child.
- Individualized Education Program (IEP) — In order to ensure that students with disabilities receive an appropriate and individualized education, IDEA requires that, after drawing upon current evaluation information, the IEP team develop a written document, the IEP, designed to meet the unique educational needs of each student with disabilities. IDEA contains clear language about:
- The information which the IEP must contain.
- Who develops the IEP.
- The public agency’s obligation to provide the special education and related services identified in the IEP.
- Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) — IDEA guarantees that a child with a disability will receive a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment (LRE) appropriate. This principle reflects IDEA’s strong preference for educating students with disabilities in general education classes with the access to general education curriculum. Placement in the general education classroom is the first placement option the IEP team must consider.
When considering placement in the general education classroom, the team is required to explore the range of modifications and supplementary aids and services that are needed to ensure that the student can receive a satisfactory education in the general education classroom. If the IEP team determines that the student can be appropriately educated in the general education classroom using modifications/supplementary aids and services, this is the LRE for that particular student.
However, the IEP team may determine that the student cannot be educated satisfactorily in the general classroom, even with the provision of modifications and supplementary aids and services. The team must then consider other placements outside of the general classroom in order to provide FAPE for the child. The range of such placements that each school system is required to have available is commonly referred to as the “continuum of alternative placements.” Thus, like all other components of a student's special education, the LRE must be determined for each student based upon that child’s individual needs.
- Parent and Student Participation in Decision Making — This principle reinforces the belief that the education of children with disabilities is made more effective by strengthening the role of parents in the special education process. IDEA requires that parents (and students, as appropriate) participate in each step of the special education process. Students must be invited to participate in IEP meetings where transition services are to be discussed. Parent involvement includes:
- Equal partnership in the decision-making process.
- The right to receive notice.
- The right to give consent for certain activities such as evaluations, changes in placement; and release of information to others.
- The right to participate in all meetings concerning their child's special education.
- Procedural Safeguards — Procedural safeguards are a set of activities whose purpose is to ensure that:
- The rights of children with disabilities and their parents are protected.
- All information needed to make decisions about the provision of a free appropriate public education to the student is provided to parents of children with disabilities and to the student when appropriate.
- Procedures (mediation and due process) are in place to resolve disagreements between parties.
Some procedural safeguards under IDEA include the right of parents to:
- Inspect and review their child’s educational records.
- Obtain an independent educational evaluation (IEE).
- Be given written prior notice on matters regarding the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of their child.
- Request mediation and an impartial due process hearing.
- Be given a full explanation of all of the procedural safeguards under IDEA and State complaint procedures.
- Appeal the initial hearing decision to the State Education Agency (SEA) if the SEA did not conduct the hearing; (also the right of the public agency).
- Have child remain in his/her present educational placement, unless the parent and the public agency agree otherwise, while administrative or judicial proceedings are pending.
- Bring a civil action in an appropriate State or Federal court to appeal a final hearing decision; (also the right of the public agency).
- Request reasonable attorney’s fees from a court for actions or proceedings brought under the IDEA under certain circumstances.
- Give or refuse consent before their child is evaluated or reevaluated.
- Participate in (and in some cases to appeal) discipline decisions regarding students with disabilities.
What Are Your Rights, as a Parent, in the Special Education Process?
Public Law 105-17, the individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997, enhances the rights of children with disabilities and their parents. It builds on the rights provided under Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, of 1975. A fundamental provision of these laws is the right of parents to participate in the educational decision-making process. Currently this includes the right to:
- A free appropriate public education for your child. "Free" means at no cost to you as parents or to your child, except for incidental fees normally charged to parents of students without disabilities as part of the regular education programs. "Appropriate" means that your child's program must be individually designed to meet his or her unique educational needs.
- Request an evaluation if you think your child has an impairment that may require special education or related services. You also have the right to get an independent evaluation if you disagree with the evaluation obtained by the school.
- Be notified in writing ("written prior notices") whenever the school proposes any of the following: an evaluation to determine whether your child has a disability; a reevaluation; or a change in your child's educational placement. You are also entitled to be notified in writing if the school refuses your request for an evaluation or change in educational placement for your child.
- Informed consent. This means you understand and agree in writing to the evaluation and educational placement decision for you child. Your consent is voluntary and may be withdrawn at any time.
- Request a reevaluation of your child at any time. The school must reevaluate your child if conditions warrant, or if you or your child's teacher requests a reevaluation; but in any case, the school must reevaluate the child at least once every three years.
- Have your child tested in the language he or she knows best. For example, if your child's primary language is Spanish, this is the language in which he or she must be tested. Students who are deaf have the right to an interpreter during the testing. Students who are blind or visually impaired have the right to have the tests provided in Braille or large print, or to have the test read aloud.
- Have access to your child's education records. A school must comply with a parent's request to inspect and review his or her child's education records within 5 days of the receipt of the request. Generally, schools must have written consent from the parent before releasing any information from the student's records. However, records can be released to certain education officials without the parent's consent. If you feel that some information in your child's records is inaccurate or misleading or violates your child's rights, you may request that the record be changed. If the school refuses, you have the right to request a hearing, or you may file a complaint with your state education agency.
- Be fully informed by the school of all rights that are provided to you under the law and all procedural safeguards that the school must follow to ensure that the rights of all are protected.
- Participate in the development of your child's individualized education program (IEP) or, if your child is under age 3, individualized family service plan (IFSP). You have the right to participate in all IEP or IFSP team decisions, or any other decision regarding your child. The school must make every possible effort to notify you of the IEP or IFSP meeting and then arrange it at a time and place that is convenient for both you and the school. The school is responsible for reviewing this plan at least once each year, but you have the right to request an IEP or IFSP meeting at any time during the school year.
- Be kept informed about your child's progress, by means such as periodic report cards, at least as often as parents of children who do not have disabilities.
- Have your child educated in the least restrictive environment. This means that, to the maximum extent possible, your child should be educated in regular classes with his or her nondisabled peers, and your child should receive supplementary aids and services in his or her neighborhood school. If education outside the regular classroom is determined to be most appropriate, your child should be educated in the most integrated setting possible.
- Voluntary mediation or a due process hearing to resolve differences with the school that can not be resolved informally. Be sure you make your request in writing, date your request and keep a copy.
What Are Your Responsibilities, as a Parent, in the Special Education Process?
Parents have a key role in the special education process. The following suggestions may offer some guidance:
- Develop a partnership with the school. Share relevant information about your child's education and development. Your observation can be a valuable resource.
- Ask for an explanation of any aspect of the program that you don't understand. Educational terms can be confusing, so do not hesitate to ask.
- Make sure the IEP or IFSP goals and objectives are specific and measurable. This will ensure that everyone teaching your child is working toward the same goals. Take the IEP or IFSP home to think about it before you sign it. You have 10 school days in which to make a decision.
- Make sure your child is included in the regular school activities program as much as is appropriate, including, at least, lunch, recess, and nonacademic areas such as art, music, and physical education.
- Monitor your child's progress and periodically ask for a report. If your child is not progressing, discuss it with the teacher and determine whether the program should be modified. As a parent, you can initiate changes in your child's educational program.
- Try to resolve directly with the school any problems that may occur with your child's evaluation, placement, or educational program. Most states have protection and advocacy agencies that can provide you with the guidance you need to resolve a problem.
- Keep records. There may be questions about your child that you will want to discuss, as well as meetings and phone conversation you will want to remember. It is easy to forget important information that is not written down.
- Join a parent organization. Besides sharing knowledge, experiences, and support, a parent group often can be an effective force on behalf of your child. Parents often find that, as a group, they have the power to bring about needed changes to strengthen special services.
As the Parent of a Child with a Disability, What Can You Offer the IEP or IFSP Process?
Parents of children with disabilities can and should be involved in a number of ways, including the following:
- Before attending an IEP or IFSP meeting, make a list of things you want your child to learn. Take notes about aspects of your child's behavior that could interfere with the learning process. Describe the methods you have found to be successful in dealing with these behaviors.
- Bring any information the school may not already have to the IEP or IFSP meeting. Examples include copies of medical records, past school records, or test or evaluation results. Remember, reports do not say all there is to say about a child. You can add real-life examples to demonstrate your child's ability in certain areas.
- Find out what related services are being provided, and ask each professional to describe the kind of service he or she will be providing and what improvement you might expect to see as a result of these services.
- Ask what you can do at home to support the program. Many skills your child learns at school can also be used at home. Ask to meet with the teacher when your child is learning a new skill that could be practiced at home.
- Discuss methods for handling discipline problems that you know are effective with your child.
- When you feel teachers and school personnel are doing a good job, tell them.
What Resources Are Available to Help You?
Your local and state education agencies have information to help guide you through the special education process. Since the specific criteria and procedures used by school districts may vary, your local director of special education can help you access such information.